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Exploring Industry 4.0 and its potential for climate solutions at COP23

Industry, the largest global energy consumer, is in a unique position to take advantage of the great potential of aligning the benefits of the global digital transition with low-carbon development.  Industry 4.0, defined chiefly by the convergence of Information Technology and Operational Technology, includes new innovative approaches across all industrial sectors. Industry 4.0 is therefore well placed to address the interconnected economic, environmental and social challenges facing societies, from climate change mitigation to promoting sustainable economic growth.

There has been significant progress in industrial energy efficiency in the UNECE region. Between 1990 and 2014, industrial energy intensity across the region decreased from 7.5 to 4.9 MJ/USD. In North America, it fell from 7.8 to 5.6 MJ/USD, with a 4.7 to 3.5 MJ/USD fall recorded in Western and Central Europe. In South-East Europe, industrial energy intensity decreased from 5.3 to 4.1 MJ/USD, while in the sub-region encompassing Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Turkey and Israel a reduction from 10 to 6.7 MJ/USD was recorded.

However, a largely untapped potential to improve industrial energy productivity exists. Industrial energy efficiency contributes about 35% of the total estimated energy savings from 2012 to 2035 in the IEA’s Efficient World Scenario. Additional investments of USD 0.7 trillion are required over this period, resulting in estimated fuel cost savings of USD 2.2 trillion.

Digitization, big data, automation, artificial intelligence, blockchain technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) are all components of Industry 4.0. These technologies can achieve significant benefits for the society and economy globally, including increased levels of energy efficiency and renewable energy, optimization of manufacturing processes, faster and more secure information sharing, thus enhancing the effectiveness of climate change mitigation efforts.

Harnessing Industry 4.0 for climate action

UNECE, jointly with UNIDO, ITU and the World Bank, organized the official COP23 side event The United Nations system, Industry 4.0 and its potential for climate solutions in Bonn on 12 November 2017.

The discussion was an opportunity to explore ways and means of incorporating Industry 4.0 into joint policy and business approaches for effective climate change mitigation solutions and sustainable development, while taking into account challenges including the lack of physical and digital infrastructure and limited connectivity, particularly in developing countries. 

Discussions focused on the technologies and data-driven systems behind Industry 4.0 and its relevance to climate solutions, and on the role of the United Nations in assisting countries to increase uptake of Industry 4.0.

Bernard Mathieu, Head of Sustainable Development at the leading global construction materials company LafargeHolcim, who actively contributes to UNECE’s work on industrial energy efficiency, underlined “the potential of Industry 4.0 technologies to help us scale up our transition to a low carbon economy - from the linkage of carbon markets to opportunities for enhanced operational efficiency, smart maintenance and better recycling or reuse. Solutions which are all applicable in the cement sector and - more broadly - in the construction value chain in which LafargeHolcim is active. I believe UNIDO, ITU and UNECE have indeed a specific role to play to maximize the opportunities and help build a fair and inclusive deployment of these technologies.”

Jim Gannon, CEO of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, discussed the business case for companies to consider Industry 4.0 solutions, urging that “we need to embed climate action as a value driver in Industry 4.0 from the outset. In parallel to industry taking this next step in evolution, it's essential that policy makers, regulators and transnational organisations like UNIDO and UNECE take a leading role in creating an environment where the new industry ecosystem can flourish, while keeping climate and sustainability close to its core".

UNECE, through its Committee on Sustainable Energy and Group of Experts on Energy Efficiency, is deeply involved in efforts to improve energy efficiency in the industry sector through promotion of innovative management and data orientated approaches. As part of the United Nations system, it has a role in ensuring that the opportunities of Industry 4.0 and technological innovation are harnessed to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in key areas, first of all industry, innovation and infrastructure (Goal 9), and energy (Goal 7).